Sunday, February 18, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Smit Rev 2

Name: Rochele Smit
Genre: YA High Fantasy


After finding a cryptic note from her dead mother, seventeen-year-old Phoebe breaks a betrothal and runs to an enemy kingdom to uncover the secrets of her past.

There, she puts herself at the mercy of the Jhihari, a winged people exiled by humans a century before. Captured and charged with espionage by the embittered Jhihari king, she escapes execution, but is left to die in the desolate alpine wilderness. Against all odds, she survives and is nursed back to health by a charming Jhihari named Caleyb. A mysterious seer then reveals the truth; Phoebe’s the last of a magical Jhirari bloodline, and she must recover an ancient book stolen by humans to unlock her own powers—powers that may bring salvation to the troubled kingdom in an impending clash with humans.

Phoebe struggles to find her place among the Jhihari while coming to terms with her new identity and feelings for Caleyb. When the king finds out she’s still alive and hunts her down, she slips away to human lands. War is looming, and if Phoebe chooses to go after the book and risk her life for the people she has come to love, she must accept her role as protector.

Chapter One:

It seemed that every time she went into the cursed forest, there was trouble, yet Phoebe was still inexplicably drawn to the forbidden comfort the dark canopy offered. She skidded to a stop at the edge of the trees, peering around a gnarled trunk to make sure no one would see her, before sprinting across the open field ahead. When she got to the road, she adjusted her apron to hide the slight bulge of the rabbit carcass hanging within, then started home. Each step threw up a dusty cloud from the parched ground, and she couldn’t help scanning the clear sky to the west. What she wouldn’t give to see even one storm cloud on the horizon.

The sound of hoofbeats rose from behind her, and she cursed her poor timing as she stepped onto the withered grass that lined the road. A regiment of mounted soldiers approached, and she kept her eyes glued to her feet, praying they would pass her by. Luck was not with her, and she soon found herself staring at the prancing hooves of a dappled grey stallion.

“What is such a lovely young thing as yourself doing out on the road all alone?”

Her eyes rose, following the gruff voice, and she groaned when she recognized the heavy set man with a fiery beard and ruddy skin staring down at her. With his crude and boorish attitude, General Skahill was the very last person she wanted to see. She racked her brain for a good excuse; being unaccompanied out of the fort’s boundaries was a punishable offense.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, breaking her silence. “If you let me give you a ride back to the fort, I’ll keep your secret.”

He extended his hand and she hesitated, itching to turn and run back into the solace of the trees. But it was too far, and even if she did make it, Skahill knew who she was and could track her down to issue a fine. Sighing, she reached out and he pulled her up, positioning her in front of him. She wrinkled her nose at the feeling of her leg trapped between his thigh and the dead rabbit as he wrapped a thick arm around her waist. He gave a viscous yank on the reins, and the horse spun around, almost unseating Phoebe.

“Onward!” Skahill shouted to his men while kicking the poor beast forward.

Phoebe stared ahead, keeping her back rigid as she tried to ignore the fleshy hand now sprawled across her belly. Thankfully, that was the only liberty he took, and she breathed a sigh of relief when the stone walls of the fort came into view. As they drew nearer, she let out a gasp at the newly erected tents standing in the field next to the fort.

Skahill noticed and she felt his chest puff as he pointed that way. “Two more regiments arrived today.”

More soldiers, just what they needed. Anger coiled through her until it threatened to spill out, and she had to bite her lip to keep from responding with bitterness.

When they reached the immense iron gates, Skahill reined the horse to a stop, and as Phoebe slid down, he caught her hand. “Now, make sure you stay close. It’s more dangerous than ever before out there, and we wouldn’t want anything to happen to that pretty face.”

She gave a curt nod, then fled into the village, feeling his eyes on her back until she ducked between two homes. When she was out of sight, her shoulders sagged as she ran her fingers along a crumbling stone wall. Even in the fading light of dusk, it was impossible to miss the tattered thatch roofs and unkept yards of the simple cottages around her. If she closed her eyes though, she could still remember the better days not long ago. Before the soldiers.

Once home, she skinned the hare and set about making a simple stew. After hanging the pot over the soot-blacked hearth, she began to tidy up, sweeping the earthen floors with a worn broom. A pleasant aroma filled the air as she took an inventory of their meager supplies. Brows furrowed, she couldn’t help the worry that crept through her at the sight of empty shelves.

Her father came home later than normal and Phoebe frowned as he sat wearily at the table. His hair had greyed over the last year and deep wrinkles lined his exhausted face. They had never been close—especially after her mother died and he cracked down on her ‘wayward’ behavior—but she did her best to play dutiful daughter.

He eyed the meal in front of him, then swirled his spoon in the wooden bowl, picking out a piece of rabbit. “Where did this come from?”

Phoebe met his question with sullen silence, then flinched as he slammed the spoon down to the table and glared at her. “You went back into the Forbidden Woode, didn’t you?”

“We have no choice! How long can we survive off of tubers and rations of moldy grain?” Phoebe cried out.

“Don’t raise your voice at me!” The fire in his eyes burned through her confidence, and she shrunk back as he continued. “If I catch you in that wretched forest again, I’ll have no choice but to beat some sense into you.”

She tried once more. “I’m seventeen, plenty old enough to take care of…”

A sharp knock sounded on the door, and grateful for the interruption, Phoebe dashed over. As she swung it open, she caught her breath upon seeing Skahill’s bulk filling the doorway.

“I’m here to speak to your father.”

Phoebe’s heart dropped and an icy tendril of fear snaked through her. If he revealed she’d been caught on the road, she would be certain to get that beating.

Her father pushed up from the table and strolled over. “General Skahill, how can I help you?”

Looking her up and down with a gleam in his eye, Skahill finally acknowledged her father. “I’m afraid I have an important matter we need to discuss in private.”

“Of course,” her father nodded, confusion evident in his voice.

They walked outside and as soon as the door shut, Phoebe retreated to the fire, wringing her hands. After what seemed an eternity, the door opened and both men strode back in. She was afraid to look, but when she did, her father seemed rather pleased.

“Phoebe, my girl, come over here,” he said, his voice a little too bright.

She edged over with halting steps, and when she was close enough, her father grabbed her hand. As soon as he took the general’s hand in his other, she was overcome by a wave of nausea; there was only one thing this could mean. She listened in detached horror as her father spoke the traditional words.

“With this handshake, I betroth my daughter, Phoebe Evensong into an everlasting bond to this man.”

In that moment, Phoebe’s world shattered. She wanted to yank her hand away, to scream no, but she stood frozen in place, unable even to take a breath.

“You may have your kiss.”

Her eyes widened at her father’s abrupt words. The dreaded kiss would seal the engagement, and she had to swallow back the bile that rose as Skahill pulled her roughly against him. Perhaps she could stall by fainting. But it was too late, he slid his hand behind her neck and leaned in.


  1. Hi Rochele,

    I love the opening sentence of your pitch – I think it’s very strong and we immediately understand the plot.

    In the 2nd paragraph, it felt like a lot of information and I’m wondering if you could streamline that a bit more.

    As for the pages—this revision is excellent! I noticed how you incorporated the suggestions from last week and made this opening even stronger. You write beautifully – wonderful descriptions, and in the end, I still felt terrible for Phoebe. I'm glad to know from your pitch that she breaks the betrothal.

    Excellent job! Good luck!


  2. Hi Rochele!

    First of all, your pitch sounds so interesting!!! I can’t write fantasy to save my life, but oh do I love reading it! So I’m always amazed by those who write it and come up with such creative worlds!!

    So a few nit-picky things because where would we be if I wasn’t here nitpicking? :)

    First off, I want just a tad more background in your opening pitch paragraph to help ground us immediately in this world. I know from reading your pages that there are armies being stationed and people aren’t allowed to leave their villages—what’s the reason for this? Unless it’s very seriously not important, I suggest opening your pitch with something like: In the land of [Blank], seventeen-year-old Phoebe is doing everything she can to survive [the drought/the wars/the economic downfall/the whatever is happening to make her stuck in her normal routine if it’s not the drought], even if it means disregarding a rule or two (this will also give your reader some insight into her character). But when she finds a cryptic note from her dead mother, she breaks an unwanted betrothal and runs to an enemy kingdom to uncover the secrets of her past.

    In the second paragraph, where you have “against all odds” – does she really survive “against all odds” which to me sounds more like chance than anything, or does she survive predominately because Caleyb saves her? If it’s the latter, I recommend getting rid of the “against all odds” language. If Phoebe does something that keeps her alive, like if she relies on special skills related to her family secret, or something like that, I would quickly mention it. “Against all odds” just sounds too cliché for me, in my opinion.

    Finally, the “role as protector” kind of comes out of nowhere for me, and I’m not 100% sure what you mean by it. I’m assuming it has to do with the bringing salvation to the Jhirari, but when I think of “protector” I typically think of inaction, not action (which might be a “me” problem but I still wanted to point it out). It sounds to me like the entire “race” of Jhihari people is at risk—I think it’d be stronger if you said something alluding more to that. Even if you did something more like this: War is looming, and Phoebe must choose whether to go after the book and risk her life for the people she has come to love, or put the Jhirari people at danger forever. (Or something like that—assuming this is what your story is about, of course! :))

    Overall, though, I think this is a wonderfully succinct and clear pitch! Great job!

    Now for your pages. :)

    Seriously, my only change would be to your opening line, because I think it would be stronger if you cut the sentence in half: It seemed that every time she went into the cursed forest, there was trouble. Still, Phoebe was inexplicably drawn to the forbidden comfort the dark canopy offered.

    That’s my only suggestion, though! You really are a fabulous writer and you have such a great start to a story here! Thank you so much for sharing your words and I wish you the best of luck! :D


  3. Rochele,

    I have been so impressed with your revisions from week to week. You really incorporated the feedback you received well, and continued to infuse your pages with even more voice.

    This is an intriguing pitch. I do think it could be a bit tighter. I think the issue might be that Pheobe is in many different places in this pitch (home, in this new kingdom, exiled from the kingdom, back with the Jhihari, back to the human world). I think more focus could be given to Pheobe's core conflict and the choice she has to make. I was also a bit confused how she was spending time with the Jhihari before the king finds out she's still alive.

    I love what you've done with the pages, especially how you've added some dimension to the father. I also appreciate how you've brought in her age. I also think the opening paragraph is much stronger.

    Overall, great job! Thank you for sharing your work.


  4. Hi Rochele!

    You have quite the interesting pitch! It has lots of layers and plenty of conflict and stakes. I would just perhaps maybe make it come more full-circle and easier to follow.

    For example, when she runs from the general, maybe she has to face the same man later in battle? Does he maybe see her with Caleyb later, unleashing a jealous attack? Does he accuse her of sleeping with the enemy and declare her a foe to the human kingdom? Might be good to mention in the last paragraph as a challenge for her to overcome (if it happens).

    Other than that, when I read the pitch, I was confused by parts of it.

    Like when she’s exiled and stumbles across her love interest, I ask: “Why does he help her? Doesn’t his race think poorly of humans? Is he exiled, too?” You also mention a seer, and I wonder where this seer came from … are they a member of an exiled, outcast tribe? Where did they come from? Are they the King’s seer? I just wonder how big the prophecy is if the King seems to not know Phoebe is part of their own bloodline.
    I think maybe if there were more details, as a reader, I’d be better orientated. Like maybe:

    “Against all odds, she survives and is nursed back to health by a charming, exiled Jhihari named Caleyb. His people’s prejudice, like their kingdom, is no longer his, leaving his eyes open to see the truth – that despite appearances, Phoebe is the last of a magical Jhihari bloodline.”

    Also, the sentence with the impending clash feels like it comes out of nowhere. Maybe introduce the hostile times between the kingdoms earlier, that way we know WHY she’s suspected (and charged) with espionage.
    As for your pages, I like the changes you’ve made! There’s a bit more to Pheobe’s personality in the non-verbal exchange she has with the general. I like how you include his reputation, too. I still feel like I’d personally want to hear her be a bit more verbal somehow with him, though, especially after reading how fiery she could be with her father.

    Overall, awesome work! Great story! Best of luck querying!


  5. Hey Rochele,


    Your starting line for your pitch is amaazing! I love your whole pitch actually. Some suggestions though: I'd suggest removing the "against all odds" phrase since its seems slightly cliche. Instead expand on it a little more so that the readers get more background. I'm also confused on where the "seer" shows up from because I thought it was just two races - mankind and Jhihari. I'm not sure where the betrothal with the general comes in though later in the story? Perhaps add a small line in the ending paragraph of the pitch about him. I don't understand where the role of 'protector' comes from also - is she the only one who can protect the Jhihari from mankind?


    I love the changes you've made in tightening and adding details. Your writing is more vivid and expressive and I absolutely love it! Some suggestions: In the part where they are talking about the new regiments, try adding a detail about the war and what its about so the readers get some more background. A very small typo in the "Forbidden Woode" - happens to all of us. Another minor detail with the dialogue structure: "Of course[." H]er father nodded, confusion evident in his voice.

    Overall, I genuinely love the work you've done!

  6. Hi Rochele,

    The first sentence of your pitch is attention-grabbing. It almost feels like a tagline to the book, something to really hook a reader in. But the rest of the pitch is a bit jarring and confusing. My understanding of the overall pitch: note causes big change in Phoebe's life; new world causes big change in her life; death sentence followed quickly by escape causes big change in her life; ah, and here's a quest followed by a romance followed by world-building. Immediately I'm concerned the story doesn't begin in the right spot, and continues to not begin in the right spot till we're too far into the project to make a good judgment call. Fantasy is difficult, and lots of things can happen to the protagonist to make them stumble onto the quest/journey/plot, but if there are too many obstacles at the beginning to get to that point in the plot, you'll lose readers. This needs to be rewritten, or the manuscript overall needs a better pacing/start somewhere else. Again, that's my impression based on the pitch.

    To the pages!

    The first sentence feels slow and relaxed, as if Phoebe is strolling. But by the next sentence it is clear she's running. Then (albeit reluctantly) she's taken back to the fort without putting up much of a fight, and continues about her daily business. The story isn't beginning in the right spot. On these five pages alone, I'd say the story begins with "Her father came home later than normal and Phoebe frowned as he sat wearily at the table." Then you need to add a couple more pages of this scene, the world-building, a sense of Phoebe's home and her life with her father, of the place surrounding them, of Skakill's background and her abhorence of him, before we rush into the betrothal. In a nutshell, the first 5 pages are rushed, and you need to be a bit more gentle and stretch this out across 10, perhaps, or 15. Give the reader a sense of the place, a sense of Phoebe, so that we too can run away from the betrothal and off on an adventure with her.



  7. Pitch...I'd dive in head first and get rid of redundancies.

    Following a cryptic note from her dead mother, seventeen-year-old Phoebe breaks a betrothal and puts herself at the mercy of the Jhihari...
    ...she escapes execution but is left...
    Avoid cliche phrases like, left to die and against all odds, nursed back to health. I feel like I'm reading trope after trope. That's fine to have them, but make them your own with unique language.

    What book? ...go after the book and risk her life...

    Remove distancing language and increase voice.

    Every time she went...

    You don't need adverbs. inexplicably

    Pack in more emotion and tighten.
    drawn to the dark canopy's forbidden comfort.

    You've done amazing!


  8. Rochele,

    Good work on the revision! I won't comment any more on that. I'll stick to the pitch. I like the first line. It makes a good log line. After that...well, there's a lot happening, and that makes it seem very generic-fantasy (and also confusing) Try slowing it down and focusing on less. I say this a *lot* but focus on what makes your story different. You have many tropes here that readers love (about to be executed, escapes, nearly dies, nursed back to health, etc) but when they're piled together, someone reading the pitch thinks "Okay, but what's different about this book, what sets it apart from others I've seen with those tropes."